The high price of college tuition is a familiar burden to students across the country, and when they are asked to pay for remedial classes for which they receive no credit, these students may wonder what they are getting for their money.
I had these students in mind when I learned this week of a bill Beth Bye, Democratic senator from West Hartford, introduced to the Connecticut Legislature.
Bye argues community colleges and state universities should allow students to skip remedial classes and move directly into freshman-level courses for credit. These students would receive additional support from tutors and instructors. They also would attend extra lab sessions and basic skills courses.
Rather than taking remedial courses before freshman courses, the students would remediate at the same time they are taking classes for credit.
For about the past four years, I’ve worked closely as a tutor with remedial classes in both the community college system and the state university system. The students I encounter in these courses often freely express their frustrations on this issue.
Students in remedial math and English courses, for example, often wonder why they’ve been placed there. Some tell me they performed well in high school courses. They may have received A grades from high school instructors or learned more advanced material years ago.
The first few weeks of the remedial course “shakes the rust off” unused skills. Some students that blanked on placement test questions suddenly realize how they should have approached a particular problem.
In retrospect, they feel they could have scored much higher and skipped the remediation. They regret their placement test performance, and this often leads to embarrassment or anger.
These students certainly could benefit from the system Bye advocates. With additional support and hard work, they could very well catch up academically to their peers.
According to Joanne Jacobs, a writer for The Hechinger Report, studies support Bye’s proposal.
For example, research from the Community College Research Center at Columbia College’s Teachers College shows that students who come close to placing out of remedial courses perform just as well in college-level courses as students who placed out of remedial courses.
The Community College of Baltimore County has an Accelerated Learning Program that allows students to enroll in freshman English and a skill- building workshop, both taught by the same instructor.
Accelerated Learning Students completed the freshman English course at a rate almost double that of comparable remedial learners. These students also were more likely to succeed in additional English courses.
What about those students who didn’t come close to placing out of remedial courses? More research is needed to determine how these students would likely fare in college-level courses with additional support.
While there are some students in every remedial class I work with that likely could have passed a college-level course, many more could have faced serious challenges for which they are certainly underprepared.
David Levinson is president of Norwalk Community College and interim vice president of the Board of Reagents for community colleges, and he shares my concern for these learners. He says this change could result in many underprepared students failing introductory courses.
Simply put, some students don’t know what they don’t know.
Levinson’s point is valid. The majority of students who finish remedial courses often tell me they may have failed the freshman course if they had taken it first.
For many, the remedial instruction builds skills they did not develop in high school. After working through a remedial course and earning a good grade, they have a solid foundation for their general education and core curriculum classes.
If Michigan legislators decide to address the remediation debate in our schools, they may wish to consider giving students these choices instead of another one-size-fits-all policy: either remedial courses or college-level courses offering additional support.
Schools should let students decide the route they take, but these institutions must then also provide students better information about their skill sets.
In two recent studies from the Community College Research Center, researchers concluded that more than 25 percent of students in remedial courses at community colleges and state universities could have enrolled in college-level courses and had at least a B.
If students were provided more accurate information about their skills and more choices when it comes to remediation, they could avoid many frustrations when starting college.